Best pre-wash treatments for different hair styles

Step your hair wash day up a few notches with advanced, nourishing formulations

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Ellie Davis19 April 2024
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While many of us pay meticulous attention to curating a facial skincare routine, we often neglect to give the same love and attention to our locks.

Wash days may be a staple part of our routines but beyond the typical shampoo and conditioner, the occasional hair mask and ideally some heat protection spray, it’s in no way close to the 12-step routine that dominates our skincare.

Even so, many of us are concerned about the health of our hair. Whether it’s not growing quickly enough, feels dry, dehydrated or lacklustre, there is a wealth of mane support on the market. The only problem? Time.

Few things make you appreciate just how long a minute can be than a mid-wash treatment. As you stand there in the shower, naked, alone and contemplating the meaning of life, you’ll think about all the tasks you could have done in the lost seconds that you instead spent waiting for the treatment to do its thing (or maybe that’s just us Type A personalities?).

There is a simple addition to our routine that requires little extra effort and can be applied while you crack on with vacuuming, Netflix or spending quality time on TikTok. Pre-wash treatments or pre-poos as they are sometimes known (but please, can we not) come in many forms from creams to oils and may be the secret to achieving a silky soft sheen.

What is a prewash treatment?

“A pre-wash treatment is applied to the hair or scalp before shampooing on either wet or dry hair”, explains Trichologist Kate Holden. “They are usually very concentrated formulas created to target common issues, whether it’s breakage, tangling, build-up, or frizz”.

Samantha Stewart MIT, Hair Gain Consultant Trichologist adds, “They can aid in detangling, strengthen the hair strands, give hair an extra boost of moisture, exfoliate the scalp and remove product build-up”.

Is a pre-wash treatment necessary?

Both trichologists stress that such products can make a huge difference to all hair types. Holden reveals, “The act of shampooing, while essential for hair and scalp health, does cause some damage as our hair swells with water and becomes more elastic and brittle. It also removes some of the protective oils and fats from the hair. A pre-shampoo treatment can help to protect the hair from the detergents in shampoo, which is particularly important if you have bleached or heat-damaged hair that needs all the protection it can get. The new John Frieda Blonde+ Repair Pre-Shampoo Treatment works in just one minute”.

Stewart breaks it down further. “They come in different intensities, so they can be matched to meet your hair and scalp needs. In trichology, we have always used pre-wash scalp ointments and hair masks as part of our clinical treatments. It is a great way to add a treatment element to your wash day regime, as they are done before you wash your hair. How often they need to be used depends on the overall condition of the hair and the scalp's needs”.

Holden continues, “Pre-wash treatments are particularly effective for bond-building as the treatments need time to penetrate the hair. Aside from being more concentrated, the advantage of a pre-wash treatment is that you can put it on before your shower and leave it in while you are going about your day. Lots of us are super strapped for time, so if you are someone who prefers to jump out of the shower and go rather than applying deep conditioning hair masks or having a time-consuming leave-in conditioner and styling routine, you might prefer a pre-wash treatment”.

What ingredients should you look out for?

Stewart breaks it down:

  • For hair that is chemically treated, exposed to heat or mechanically damaged: hydrolysed proteins such as oat, keratin and wheat will penetrate the hair's cuticle rather than sit on the surface.
  • For hair prone to dryness: products that contain humectants will help to attract water molecules to your hair and help hydrate the hair. Try the Hair Gain Hair Mask that includes Panthenol, Phytantriol and Betaine which are known for their humectant properties. Look out for products that contain honey, glycerine and hyaluronic acid too.
  • For hair that is prone to tangling: look for ingredients that aid slip such as marshmallow root and aloe vera. These can help prevent mechanical damage and remove any loose hairs that have accumulated in between washing.
  • To decrease build-up and maintain a balanced microbiome: a prewash scalp exfoliator containing ingredients such as salicylic acid, betaine salicylate and hyaluronic acid will help exfoliate the scalp and protect the scalp barrier function so it can maintain optimum hydration levels.

Holden adds “For curly or thick hair, choose a formula that focuses on hydration and moisturizing, and for finer hair look for shine and reducing flyaways”.

What types of pre-wash treatment should you choose?

“Choosing the formula for your hair treatments depends on your hair type and what concern you are trying to target”, concludes Holden. “If you have finer hair, using an oil-based formula can be tricky as they are often saturated and heavy which can make your hair look flat and weighed down, so often a shine-infusing rinse can be a better choice.

“Oils can also create more of a barrier on the hair, so if you are using very gentle shampoos you might find that you can feel a residue on your hair. This can be great for thicker or curly hair, but not so much if your hair tends to be on the greasy side. Creams tend to work for all hair types, particularly if you are looking for a smoothing formula”.

Shop the best pre-wash treatments below

Olaplex Hair Perfector No.3 Repairing Treatment, 100ml

Cult Beauty

A bestseller for a reason, the No.3 was once the first step in Olaplex’s bond-repairing collection for home use. It is the perfect embodiment of the trademarked technology that drives the collection. The complex fortifies the strands, bringing hydration, smoothing and strengthening so that your mane is more resilient in the face of damage - be it caused by bleach, heated tools or pollution. Apply to damp hair, leave for 10 minutes and follow with shampoo and conditioner (No.4 and No.5 if you’re the type who eschews cross-branding).

To double down on the bond-building protection, you can first apply the Olaplex No.0 to encourage better absorption of the No.3 that follows and it comes handily in this duo for £56.

Buy now£21.99, Amazon

Color Wow Dream Filter Treatment

Color Wow

When you live in a hard water area like London, strand-stressing chalky limestone-infused H2O is an unwelcomed addition to your wash routine. These minerals cause hair to frizz, lack shine and cry out for a moisture boost. They also wreak havoc on dye jobs.

Enter Color Wow. The brand’s beloved Dream Filter Treatment acts as a filter to break down traces of these elements and give you longer between salon treatments. You can use it on any highlighted locks or darker hues to make the colour more vibrant. Liberally coat your hair with the formula and shampoo after three or so minutes. Follow with shampoo.

Buy now£21.10, lookfantastic

The Nue Co. Supa_Thick Hair Treatment

The Nue Co.

In The Nue Co.'s product line-up, nature and science go hand in hand to give you a best-of-both-worlds approach to your skin and hair care. The SUPA_THICK is designed as a targeted treatment for those with stressed stands.

The serum texture should be massaged directly onto the scalp to energise and revive the follicles, thereby promoting hair growth. The ingredient list includes peppermint and rosemary oil that feel tingling on application as well as the brand's patented probiotic technology that combats dandruff. Apply to hair, leave for 20 minutes then wash.

Buy now£46, Cult Beauty

Larry King Hair Spoilt for Choice Hair Oil

Larry King

Rosemary oil has been lauded with such benefits as encouraging growth, counteracting flaking, calming and soothing and so it should come as no surprise that the ingredient has gone viral on TikTok.

This is the component at the heart of the Spoilt for Choice Hair Oil from Larry King, expert hairstylist to the stars. The naturally-derived formula includes this antimicrobial ingredient as well as the nourishing and hydrating cocktail of jojoba, argan and squalene that combine to fortify each individual strand - all without leaving a greasy seal.

To apply, simply add a few drops from the pipette applicator and massage it into the scalp. Leave for three minutes before you shampoo or overnight to soak up the goodness. It can also be incorporated as a finishing oil too, just use less.

Buy now£28, Cult Beauty

The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Serum for Hair Density 60ml

The Ordinary

Recommended by hairdressers to be applied in tandem with daily supplements, the modest outlay garners big results in thickness and fullness of fine hair.

The Ordinary is known for its affordable products that don’t scrimp on efficacity from its skincare to the haircare offering. This serum has been labelled a ‘game-changer’ for a reason, using a trademarked concoction of complexes to remain lightweight yet potent and give hair a healthy boost.

For best results, apply onto the scalp before hair wash day and use a massager to encourage absorption. The more consistent you are, the better the results.

Buy now£20.80, lookfantastic

Coco & Eve Like A Virgin Hair Masque Set


Your hair may no longer be the colour you were born with but, a quick application of this Coco & Eve Like A Virgin Hair Masque Set and it’ll feel almost like your natural locks.

This five-in-one formula works by sealing shine-giving moisture into the cuticle while deeply repairing hair from within. Its intense combination of ingredients works to nourish your hair from roots to tips and rehydrates the most weakened and dried-out portions of the hair. Slather it on from root to tip.

Buy now£23.05, Coco & Eve

Philip Kingsley Elasticizer Intensive Treatment

Philip Kingsley

Best for: A product that lives up to the reputation

This is one of the most cult haircare products on the market and for a very good reason - it works. Philip Kingsley’s Elasticizer boasts endless awards, accolades and word-of-mouth recommendations for its ability to transform tired locks and leave them deeply conditioned. So popular is the product that one is sold every minute.

This is the brand’s Intensive Treatment that works harder to restore tresses to a more manageable and elastic level and with a healthier-looking sheen. You should notice the effects in just one use but it only gets better with continual application. The ingredients keep working even after it has been washed out, protecting against UV and prolonging the life of your colour. Split ends appear less obvious, hair is hydrated and it feels silky soft. Cue the compliments.

Before shampooing, apply into hair for 20 minutes - or over 60 or overnight under a shower cap if you’ve got the time - before continuing on with the rest of your routine. It may require a double shampoo to make sure all the product is removed.

Buy now£29.21, lookfantastic

Redken Acidic Bonding Concentrate Intensive Pre-Treatment 150ml


With a bottle that looks like it’s straight out of a lab, this is the potent treatment that your hair routine has been lacking to give stressed strands a new lease of life. The cocktail of the Redken Bonding Care Complex and citrus acid makes for an efficacious product that leaves your hair in a healthier condition - and really what more can you ask for in a treatment? With a lovely texture and pleasant subtle scent, it will become your go-to to transform overly processed hair.

Buy now£18.07, Amazon